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The artist Small Paul on the recreation of classic works under block: this is Shanghai

When the British creative director Little Paul he found himself locked up in Shanghai, his artistic instinct needed an outlet. Under his artist nom de plume – camera name? – XiaoBaoLuo, he began to recreate classic works only with what he had lied about in his apartment.

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Let’s face it, it was our duty to reach him to find out more …

How did you first conceive the lockdown series?
It started as an idea for a round in a block quiz, I thought I’d recreate the paintings and see if people could guess them. I also posted them in a group and they had a pretty good reaction.

So, I decided to make a series that included a mask in each image. I was planning on doing 10, then 12, but I had too many ideas, so I opted for 22 for 2022.

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Can you tell us about the process of creating an image?
Each image is fast enough once I get the idea, but I’ve set myself some rules as a challenge:

1: Everything needs to be captured in a single photo, using only the timer, because I didn’t have anyone else to help me press the shutter.

2: I shoot with my phone (although now I wish I had used a better camera and longer timer).

3: I have to use the things I have at home (due to the block).

4: The Biggest: DO NOT use Photoshop to compose things together or manipulate the image because so many things are being scammed or faked these days. Some friends suggested using PS, but I was adamant that I wanted to keep it pure.

For example, I could have easily shrunk down for the newer Keith Haring and put it in the background just right, but I think seeing myself struggling to fit into the yoga mat is all part of the fun.

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I must admit I use a little PS, but only to adjust the color and contrast a little closer to the originals. I see it as traditional image processing, development and printing in photography.

In terms of shooting, the hardest part is finding the best spot in the house with the right background / lighting to recreate the image. I realized that the best time of day for me to shoot is in the morning, when I get the most natural light through my windows.

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This project made me understand what geniuses ancient masters like Vermeer were in capturing natural light, centuries before photography or electric lighting.

Once I find the right place, the set up is quick because I have already planned the props / costume. The first thing after finding the right angle of the lighting is to get the right camera height.

Then the posture; the problem with using a timer is that you can’t see yourself posing and you have to move out of position to restart the timer. Also, you only have 10 seconds to return to the pose (you can use the clock but then you only have 3 seconds to hide the clock and pose).

When I was doing The Bather, I had to run over the window wearing a towel, then drop the towel and get into position, all in less than 10 seconds, I’m not sure what the neighbors were thinking.

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Once I’m shooting, it usually takes 20-30 hits to get it to a level I’m happy with. The last part is coming up with a name. I’m trying to keep a nod to the original in all names.

How long does each image take to set up / capture?
Some are faster than others; installation is usually less than 10 minutes now that I have cleared up space in my spare room. So I’d probably say another 20 minutes by jumping up and down to hit the timer.

As I said, there is no comping done to the images, only color adjustment, so very little time is needed at that stage.

How to choose which paintings to replicate?
I want them to be fun. This is the most important part. Some only come to me when I see something in the house that triggers an idea (e.g. the red carpet on the Miro).

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Others, the idea was born earlier and I tried to understand if it was possible, like the Hirst sheep in the containers or the Cattelan banana one, made of sofa covers and blankets.

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How do you find the props to use?
Everything, so far, is something I have found in the house. Yes, I have a lot of random junk!

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Koons’ golden suit was an old costume from a corporate dinner.

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I also used food like lettuce, bungee cords, a stuffed cat etc.

The crown for the Queen’s Jubilee portrait was particularly difficult to create; I ended up using Nespresso belts, clips, pods, and a guitar strap.

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What’s your favorite recreation so far and why?
Personally I like the more abstract and ridiculous ones, like the Banana Cattelan, the Miro sheep or the Hirst sheep.

The ones most appreciated by my followers seem to be the more classic style images; I guess because with natural light and details they technically look better and closer to the original paintings.

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Have you tried to do something that didn’t work?
In a way, I visualize them in my head before I get to the point of setting them up. So unless I have a clear plan, I don’t start configuring. I have received some requests that I haven’t processed yet (such as Munch’s Scream).

Some are more difficult than others to achieve correct posture. For example the guitarist Picasso is physically impossible; for Keith Haring, yoga mats were too small to pose completely accurately; and the banana was hard to put the blanket back with my arms in. But that’s all part of the fun.

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Are there any other similar series in line?
I’m doing 22 for the 2022 Lockdown. I still have one to shoot. I also did two one-off “special edition” of topical issues; one for the Queen’s Jubilee weekend and one spontaneous when someone threw a Mona Lisa cake a couple of weeks ago.

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I’m considering season 2, just making requests, but that might mean buying some props. I’ve also shot videos for many of them, but haven’t had time to edit and post on DouYin yet.

I also hope to find a place to print and display them correctly. Feel free to contact me on WeChat if you are interested in helping make it happen or if you would like to purchase any of the images …

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Follow Small Paul’s artistic adventures on Instagram and check out the complete lockdown series by searching little little paolo or by scanning the QR:

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Or search for the #XiaoBaoLuo hashtag on Wechat / Facebook.

[All images courtesy of Small Paul]

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